A MAJOR independent appraisal of crime has shown a shockingly low level of convictions for the most common forms of crime in Ireland and established that the gardai and the Department of Justice have been massaging crime statistics for years.
The Central Statistics Office (CSO) evaluation -- set in train by former Justice Minister Michael McDowell -- shows appallingly low levels of convictions for the most common forms of crime that actually require investigation, like burglary, car theft, theft from the person, criminal damage and arson and which affect most people.
It appears from the CSO figures that the gardai were lumping in high "detection" offences like traffic offences (where there is generally a 100 per cent "detection" rate because a person almost necessarily has to be detected on the spot) and drugs possession, again where a person is usually caught in the act for the crime actually to exist, to make the figures look better.
Senior garda sources have told the Sunday Independent that the key crime areas for evaluating real detection levels are in the burglary, criminal damage and theft categories. The CSO examined reported crimes from 2003 to 2006.
-Out of a total of 99,799 reported or recorded burglaries between 2003 and 2006 there were only 7,985 recorded convictions, or just 8 per cent of cases.
-Car theft, shows an even worse scenario. Out of a total of 53,905 cases over the four years there were just 3,815 convictions -- a conviction rate of 5.1 per cent in 2006.
-The gardai appear to be tackling the crime of theft from the person, where the victim at least is usually able to give a description of the thief, somewhat better. Conviction rates rose from 6.8 per cent in 2003 to 10 per cent in 2006.
-Conviction rates for the offence of criminal damage, however, have almost halved in the same period from 7.9 per cent in 2003 to only 4.4 per cent in 2006. So, vandals stand less than a 1-in-20 chance of being caught and convicted.
The CSO statistics also reveal that the level of murder detection falls over the four years in line with an increase in gangland killings, all but a few of which remain unsolved to this day.
There were 51 murders in 2003 in which 31 led to "relevant proceedings" in court. The conviction rate was 48 per cent in 2004, but this began to fall as the crime-related gangland murders increased in 2005 and 2006 when the conviction rate fell to 21 per cent.
-The figures also show that four out of 10 people charged with drink driving are evading conviction, a reflection of the amount of work being put into the exploitation of legal loopholes.